Asking ‘why’ when something goes wrong

The 5 Why’s

Is there any mother out there that has not been bombarded by “WHY?”  I doubt it!  It turns out, we need to take a lesson from our toddlers.

When frustration hits or something is not going as it ought, it is important to get to the cause of the problem and not just deal with the effect of it.  A tool that is used in manufacturing or other business is asking ‘why’ 5 times.  Obviously it may take a few more or a few less why’s to figure it out, but it gives you a target.  It is a very simple way of going upstream from the effect (the frustration) to the cause (which you can do something about.)

Example:  Oh the frustration.  You have an appointment at the photo studio, but you get there late and they are unable to fit you in.

Why are you frustrated?

Because your appointment is missed.

Why is it missed?

Because you were late.

Why were you late?

Because it took too long to get ready.

Why did it take too long to get ready?

Because you couldn’t find the floofy skirt that Olivia was going to wear.

Why couldn’t you find it?

Because the laundry had not been processed correctly.

Ta-da!  Suddenly you have traced your frustration back to a breakdown in process.  Having identified what process ‘broke’ you can implement a tiny change to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Obviously that is a somewhat simplistic example.  You will be amazed, though, at how effective the 5 Why’s is at uncovering the actual problem.  It can hurt to realize that it was something you did or did not do that is the cause of your current frustration, but that is not the point at all.  The point is, until you uncover the problem you can’t fix the problem.  Asking “Why?” is a powerful tool to diagnose the problem.

You can download a simple worksheet to help you identify ‘WHY’ something went wrong here: 5 Why’s Worksheet

And a Lean Manufacturing quote that I love… “The owl is the least lean animal.  Instead of asking why, it asks who.” Which is what Lean is really all about:  not blaming people (who?) but rather fixing processes (why?).